The four men vying for the local Member of Parliament seat faced off Thursday night, touching on topics ranging from public private partnerships (P3) to unemployment, all before a crowd that numbered over 100.
The Mountain Room at the Mission Best Western had standing room only as voters flocked to hear views from members of the Conservative, Liberal, Green and New Democrat parties.
The candidates were first asked how they would ensure affordable Internet/phone access, noting telecommunication companies charge approximately $10 per gigabyte while actual costs are pegged at around a penny.
The NDP’s Craig Speirs related his experience on Maple Ridge council, saying every time a road is ripped up for work or repair, data cables are put in the ground. He is against usage-based billing and said network access is “an economic driver.”
Incumbent Randy Kamp (Conservative) said the “key is getting greater competition into the industry.” The government has asked the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to look into data rates and to recommend changes.
Green Party candidate Peter Tam pointed out that a lack of competition doesn’t mean rates should be allowed to spin “out of control.”
The Liberal Party, said candidate Mandeep Bhuller, “would encourage the CRTC to review the policy to reflect equal opportunity and equal access” for all people.
The candidates were asked their position on keeping PPP Canada program funding available for qualifying projects, and about the privatization of public assets and resources.
Speirs said he is against P3-style funding for water projects, such as the one recently proposed — and nixed by Mission council — for a joint water system with Abbotsford that would tap into Stave Lake.
“Water is too critical to a community’s health to give to private concerns,” he said. “All three levels of government should contribute” to these types of projects. “No one disagrees with the [Stave Lake line], but it’s how we do it.”
Kamp said this is “primarily a municipal issue” and that he respects Mission council’s decision. The second-term Conservative said government has two “envelopes of assistance” for infrastructure projects: P3s and the Building Canada Fund, “which is more of a public model.”
The Green Party position is that water is a necessity of life and can not be privatized, said Tam. “Water must be excluded from these types of [funding] things.”
Bhuller said the P3 program lack of use, which he stated is approximately eight per cent, shows it isn’t a popular option, and that infrastructure funds would be “better used for affordable housing.”
He said Canada needs to maintain its freshwater heritage and prevent any bulk water exports.
Mission’s unemployment rate, registering at 10.5 per cent currently, is among the highest in the country, said Melia, who then asked what projects would the candidates suggest to create sustainable positions that paid wages suitable for raising families.
Speirs answered first, noting an increased investment in the high-tech industry would be on his radar, while Kamp said he has spoken to business owners along First Avenue and said the solution is “creating an environment in which businesses want to invest,” by using lower taxes to encourage industry to set up shop locally. “Mission will benefit from this.”
Tam said funding must be provided for programs that would help bolster the youth employment rate, and help get people into the agricultural industry.
The skills training program must be re-established, said Bhuller, and affordable childcare should be implemented, as this will allow parents to seek training and increase their education level.